Translated by Alanna Quintyne
In this article called “Similar verbs with different meanings”, I talk about five couples of Italian verbs very similar to each other but completely different in their meanings.
If you are curious to know them and if you wish to improve your vocabulary, this is the right resource for you!
What do you think about Italian verbs? Are they difficult? Are there too many?
Well, it is a well-known fact that in Italian there are many verbal modes and tenses in addition to the different types of verbs…
Today, as you may have already noticed from the title of this article “Similar verbs with different meanings”, I would like to focus on verbs that are similar to each other but have different meanings.
I know that this introduction could cause a bunch of confusion, and in order to avoid any type of uncertainty, I believe it is appropriate to take a step back. In Italian, like many other languages, there are many types of regular, irregular, intransitive, modal and auxiliary verbs, to name a few.
There are some verbs that we could describe as normal for all intents and purposes because they end in -are, -ere, -ire, and they are conjugated following the rules that all of you would have learned from the start. Others, on the other hand, despite having the same endings in their infinitive form are, in reality, irregular. There are then verbs that are called reflexive, whose endings are no longer -are, -ere, -ire, but -si.
Be careful though!
In the majority of cases, the meaning of these two types of verbs that we have just analyzed remains the same. For example, if we take the verbs divertire and divertirsi, they can both be explained with “to have a good/pleasant time”.
So, what is the difference between the two? The difference lies in the subject and the object of the action, which are the same in the reflexive verbs, while they do not correspond in non-reflexive regular and irregular verbs. Therefore, to explain it even more clearly, the meanings coincide, but the way in which the verbs are used does not.
Let’s try to make some examples in order to get rid of any possible doubts:
- Divertire: il comico diverte il pubblico. The comedian entertains the public (the subject, il comico, entertains another object, il pubblico).
- Divertirsi: Il comico si diverte. The comedian entertains himself (the subject, il comico, entertains himself, the object).
Therefore, as we have already mentioned, in the majority of cases the meaning coincides, if you think, for example, about:
- Preoccupare = To worry [about somebody or something] // Preoccuparsi = To be anxious [about somebody or something].
- Vestire = To wear, to clothe [someone else] // Vestirsi = to get dressed.
- Truccare = To put makeup on [someone else], Truccarsi = to put makeup on [oneself],
and so on, but the use – and by the use I mean the way in which these verbs are conjugated – is different.
But be careful!
There are cases where the meanings are not similar, and in today’s article, I really want to highlight some of these verbs which are often the cause of error on my students’ part. Let’s take a look at them together.
1. Sentire – Sentire
I’ve heard very often from my beginner students the following question: “Ilaria come senti?”, which for an Italian more or less means:
- Funzionano bene le tue orecchie? (Do your ears work well?)
- Hai per caso problemi di udito? (Do you have hearing problems?)
All things which my students obviously were not interested in asking.
After my initial bewilderment, I realized that the problem stemmed from the fact that they considered sentire in the same manner as sentirsi. In other words, for them, the two verbs have the same meaning even if that is not the case. Let’s clarify this with some other examples:
Sentire = to hear, to smell
- Non urlare! Ti sento forte e chiaro! (Don’t shout. I hear you loud and clear!)
- Sento un buon profumino. Che cos’hai preparato? (I smell something nice. What did you cook?)
Sentirsi = to feel
- Ti senti bene oggi? (Do you feel okay today?)
- Sì, mi sento all grande! (Yes, I feel great!)
2. Aspettare – Aspettarsi
Another pair of verbs which I’d like to talk to you about is aspettare and aspettarsi. In reality, the most frequent error regarding these is the improper use of aspettare. I’ll give you an example:
- Aspetto che tu arrivi in tempo questa volta.
- Non aspettavano un temporale così forte.
Is it clear why I specified the improper use of the verb? In both cases in the phrases we just saw, the verb aspettare is used, which has a meaning of to wait. But remember that:
- Aspettare: to wait.
- Aspettarsi: to expect.
From this explanation we can deduce that the sentences need a different verb in order for them to function:
- Mi aspetto che tu arrivi in tempo questa volta. (I expect you to arrive on time this time).
- Non si aspettavano un temporale così forte. (They didn’t expect such a strong storm).
Instead, here are some correct sentences formulated with the verb aspettare:
- Sto aspettando l’autobus. (I am waiting for the bus).
- Aspettano il suono della campanella per andare a casa. (They wait for the sound of the bell in order to go home).
3. Trovare – Trovarsi
Here are two other similar but not identical terms and also in this case let’s try to explain the reason by using their English translations.
- Trovare = to find
- Trovarsi = to be located/to feel
From what you can see, the difference between these two verbs is substantial. Let’s try then to formulate some sentences to better understand how they work with context.
- Camminando ha trovato un portafoglio. (While walking he found a wallet).
- Avete trovato i biglietti per il concerto? (Did you find the tickets for the concert?)
- Dove si trova la scuola che frequenta tuo figlio? (Where is the school that your son attends located?)
- Mi hanno detto che si trovano molto bene nella città in cui si sono trasferiti. (They told me that they find life to be very nice in the city to which they moved).
Now, after having formed these sentences it seems obvious to me that, even if you aren’t that familiar with these verbs and don’t have an in-depth understanding of them, you can all realize the totally different meaning depending on the use and context in which they are inserted.
4. Pronunciare – Pronunciarsi
Who doesn’t know the word pronunciare? Everyone knows it, surely also you all who are learning a new language or who read my blog and listen to my podcast because you are interested in italian. And so, how many times have you ever asked your Italian teacher or your Italian friends:
- Come pronunci questa parola? (How is this word pronounced?)
- Come si pronuncia questa frase? (How is this phrase pronounced?)
And how about pronunciarsi?
Pronunciarsi as a reflexive form doesn’t mean to produce sounds so that the result is polished and clear like with the verb pronunciare, but it means to express an opinion. For example:
- E tu cosa pensi di quanto è successo? (What do you think about what happened?)
- Preferisco non pronunciarmi! (I prefer not to say!)
Which basically means I prefer not to say/not to let people know my opinion on what has happened.
We could also use the same verb for more formal and bureaucratic matters, for example:
- La giuria si è pronunciata a favore dell’imputato, that is, it was declared that the accused was pronounced not guilty by the jurors.
5. Disporre – Disporsi
Here is the last pair that I want to discuss today: disporre and disporsi.
Are they the same? Are they different? Well, let’s say the response depends on the context and the sentence we are dealing with. In fact, there are two definitions that emerge from these verbs:
- To have available.
- To position/to place something or someone in a given way.
Therefore, if we are interested in using the first option (to have available), disporre is the most adequate choice, for example:
- Fortunatamente per lui, dispone di tempo e denaro.
- Fortunately for him, he has the time and money.
But if we want to use the second definition, both of the verbs are correct. Let’s make some sentences in order to better understand what I mean:
- Disponi tutti i documenti sul tavolo. (Place all the documents on the table).
In this case, the subject (tu) and the object (i documenti) are different and don’t coincide and for this reason, we use the verb disporre. But if we say:
- Disponetevi in fila indiana! (Position yourselves in a single file!)
the verb that I am using here is disporsi because in this case the subject (voi) and the object (voi stessi) are the same. It goes without saying that in this case, the reflexive form is a must.
In this article called “Similar verbs with different meanings”, I introduced 5 pairs of verbs that are very similar to each other. From what you may have noticed, however, the way in which they are used, as well as their meaning, varies according to whether they are reflexive or not.
It is extremely important to learn these types of verbs or at least the more common ones because this knowledge will make it easier for you to express ideas, to understand concepts, and last but not least, it will allow you to eliminate any doubts or ambiguity.
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